Sure, going all Les Stroud in the wilderness and trying to survive without any trace of the modern day technology sounds incredible, but that’s not for everyone. Some of us still want to enjoy some sort of entertainment even in the middle of nowhere, while others are more practical and find that top-notch survival gadgets will improve their chances and their overall outdoor experience.
But these things require power to work and their batteries don’t hold for very long, which is where we come in: this article will try to give you the best solar phone charger options, as well as the fundamental factors which influence the selection process.
How You Navigate The Sea of Solar Chargers
Looks aren’t everything when this type of device is involved. And you don’t want to spend your money on something without having all your facts and technical details straight.
What’s with the watts
The performance of a solar charger is measured in watts, which is a unit of measure for electrical power.
So the higher the electrical power you need, the bigger the wattage you have to look for in your product.
- Below 10 watts. For instance, a device like a small radio that consumes less is good at below 10 watts.
- 10-15 watts. Smartphones, tablets and iPads need somewhere above 10 watts of power if they’re to be charged properly.
- 15-25 watts. If there are more people using the same solar panel, you have to up its wattage consequently and maybe go as high as 25 watts depending on the items your group is planning to bring along.
- Above 25 watts. And if you really can’t say goodbye to your beloved laptop for the trip, then a higher than 25 watts of electrical power is required.
Of course, at this point you face the dilemma of choosing between a faster charging rate that is achieved thanks to a higher wattage, and a lower price range, which comes with a lower wattage product.
But if you’re looking for a mix of quality and performance and you don’t have a ton of gadgets with you, choosing the middle range wattage chargers is probably a good idea.
Amp those amps
Output power is measured in amperes or amps for short. A smartphone can be charged with 1 amp, but a tablet that has a larger battery needs at least 2 amps to be charged properly.
That’s why it’s indicated to check the specifications that regard the USB ports as well. Not to mention some common confusions which arise from the way in which manufacturers write their amperages on the products: some refer to maximum amps, while others to total amps supported.
The first product can be better, as it’s probably a dual port that will allow you to charge a couple of devices simultaneously, while the second works for just one item.
Choose according to type
The type of the solar charger you’re taking should be considered depending on factors such as:
- Trip length.
- Number of devices brought.
- Sunny or cloudy weather.
So let’s say you’re camping:
- For one or two days, somewhere very sunny and you only have a couple of devices. Get an integrated battery solar panel.
- For maximum 5 days in sunny weather, and you’ve packed various gadgets, not just a smartphone and a tablet. You need at least a folding panel with a battery for this instance.
- For a week tops, you have the same amount of gadgets as in the previous example and it may get pretty dark at times too. Get a flexible CIGS panel.
- For more than a week, in harsh conditions but not very cloudy. You need to consider a monocrystalline solar charger. This works best for longer trips because of a psychological disadvantage: it doesn’t fold and some people may find that annoying.
- For more than a week, in different kinds of weather, alone and you take frequent trips like that. Get a polycrystalline charger which is cheaper than a monocrystalline one but doesn’t work as fast.
Consider the built-in features
The details and extras you should definitely take into account regard:
- Integrated batteries for people who want to charge their solar panels and then use them when it’s cloudy or at night. These are also amazing for making emergency calls.
- The auto-restart option. If it gets cloudy for a second, you don’t want to be the one restarting the solar charger every time that happens.
- The convenient setup. Setting up your charger fast without fussing about weather conditions like the wind or a storm is definitely a plus.
- The ease of carrying it. Getting a lighter weight charger like a CIGS works better for those who don’t have the room or strength to carry a heavier but better quality item.
- Any good survival gear should be as versatile and multi-functional as possible. Make sure your solar charger is too, and that it can charge efficiently two items at once. So check for a dual USB port that will save you a lot of time. Incorporated flashlights are sweet extras too.
The Products We Like
After all that, let’s see if we can put all this info into practice and actually choose a good product that meets all the above characteristics.
Anker 8W Single-Port Portable Foldable Outdoor Solar Charger
Weight: 1.1 pounds
Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.7 x 0.8 inches
Design Features: PowerIQ technology; single-port power; 8 watts; monocrystalline charger; portability
Best Use: Short trips
Description: First off we chose Anker 8W Single-Port Portable Foldable Outdoor Solar Charger because it has 4.5 out of 5 stars received from about 1400 happy customers. Anker itself is a renowned brand in the technological field and has more than 10 million customers worldwide.
One of its perks is the exclusive PowerIQ technology, which automatically recognizes the type of device you have plugged in, in order to charge it efficiently at the most appropriate speed.
On the other hand, keep in mind that this charger will only deliver 1 amp of power under direct sunlight. That’s why it’s perfect for shorter trips during which people don’t take more than a smartphone along. Besides, for optimal charging you have to place the panel under direct sunlight for it to work.
Given that it only has a single port, you won’t be able to charge two devices at once, and that’s why it’s best for a person traveling alone. However, the 8 watts worth of power should be ok to charge even a tablet, although not to the maximum.
That being said, other advantages include:
- The quality of the materials. The monocrystalline material used for the charger is one of the best in this array of products. Besides, the PET panels have an industrial-strength and the outer canvas is made from polyester, thus rendering the Anker panel quite resistant in all sorts of weather.
- Being lightweight and compact, you can easily carry this charger along. It also has the option of being attached to your backpack so you can hike and charge.
- Folding ability. You can fold this for optimal carry.
- Welcome guide.
- 18 months warranty.
- Friendly customer service.
RAVPower 16W Solar Charger
Weight: 2.2 pounds
Dimensions: 10.1 x 1 x 7.6 inches
Design Features: Dual USB ports; high conversion; maximum 3 amps total; exclusive iSmart technology; foldable; water-resistant; mould-resistant
Best Use: Longer trips
Description: RAVPower 16W Solar Charger is another very appreciated panel, given that it gets 4.6 out of 5 stars from more than 800 customer reviews. One reason may be its incorporated and trademarked SUNPOWER® technology, which brings about a high solar conversion ratio of up to 23.5%.
And you can even get the most power no matter the weather, because it works quite good when it’s cloudier too. You can likewise charge your devices on the go, since you’re able to attach the charger securely on your backpack. The only disadvantage is that if it suddenly stops charging, you’ll have to restart it yourself.
Besides, given that it has a dual USB port, you can plug in two devices at once. And one of those devices can have a pretty large battery since the maximum amperage is 3 amps total. So you can safely charge a tablet and a smartphone together.
Its weight of 2.2 pounds makes it lightweight enough especially for longer trips when you’re already thinking of taking a bigger luggage. That convenient weight makes it possible for you to hang it wherever you want: on your backpack, tent or a tree to use the solar rays in your favor.
Another great advantage stems from the advanced combination of iSmart and Smart IC technologies that will detect all connected devices’ individual input and distribute the total output accordingly, to guarantee the fastest charge they can benefit from.
Apart from being fast, it’s also weatherproof. The materials used are resistant both to water and to mold, so it doesn’t matter if you leave it in the camp until you get back from your hike, and it unexpectedly starts raining.
You can charge basically anything with a USB attached:
- HTC mobile phones.
- Power Monkeys.
Nekteck 20W Solar Charger
Weight: 20 ounces
Dimnsions: 12.9 x 6.7 x 1.7 inches
Design Features: 20 watts; 21%-24% conversion rate; can charge 2 devices simultaneously; smart IC chip; 3 amps total; portable; durable
Best Use: Long-ish trips in sunny weather
Description: At 4.6 out of 5 stars, the first advantage of this panel is its high efficiency. Nekteck 20W Solar Charger has an electrical power of 20 watts, which means you can use it for longer hikes with bigger groups.
But having a conversion rate that increases up to 21%-24% means that it’s also pretty fast, so you don’t have to wait around too long for everyone’s phones to be charged. The only downside is that it works well mostly in sunny weather.
Apart from that, the rapidity is aided by the built-in smart IC chip that complements its fast charging technology. Basically, you have 2 USB ports, and you can plug a device in each of these, provided the maximum amperage doesn’t go over 3 amperes. But the IC chip will identify what type of device you’ve plugged in, in order to make the charging more efficient.
Other advantages include:
- You can easily carry it in your backpack.
- It’s not too huge so it doesn’t take much room.
- You can fold it easily.
- You can carry it on the outside of your backpack.
- The canvas is specially made from rugged materials that prevent the charger from getting damaged in damp weather.
- 12 months worry-free.
[Upgraded Version] Solar Charger, Nekteck 6000mAh
Weight: 5 ounces
Dimensions: 6.2 x 3.3 x 1.6 inches
Design Features: Double panel; SUNPOWER solar cell; 21%-24%, conversion rate; compact; portable; stylish; built-in 6000mAh lithium polymer battery; LED flashlight; 2.2 watts; 2.1 amperes
Best Use: Long trips; emergencies
Description: At merely 4.4 out of 5 stars, we feel [Upgraded Version] Solar Charger, Nekteck 6000mAh is worth a whole lot more. To begin with, it has a dual solar panel, which means it’s the first double panel portable solar charger manufactured with efficiency as the foremost advantage.
Having a dual high-efficiency SUNPOWER Solar Cell panel makes the power conversion rate increase up to 21%-24%. Therefore you’ll have more power to charge your items, but also more power for the panel to recharge its internal battery.
That means you can use it in all sorts of circumstances: long trips with big groups, when it’s sunny or dark, even during urban emergencies that provoke power outages.
At just 5 ounces, this charger is one of the most lightweight items on the market, so you can easily fit it in your bag and carry it everywhere. But portability is complemented by its stylish look that also serves a purpose: the football grain design has anti-skid protecting effect.
Another thing we love is its built-in 6000mAH lithium polymer battery. This battery is:
- High-capacity, 2-4 times bigger than an average phone has. So you can charge this incorporated battery at 2.2 watts either from a wall socket or from full sun, and then use the panel inside the tent or during the night.
- Anti-explosion, because it’s made from lithium polymer which cannot explode even when it’s over-heated.
- Durable, since it can offer 1000+ recharge cycles during its lifespan.
Plus, the whole thing has an incorporated LED flashlight that is perfect for emergencies, as well as 4 LED status of charge indicators that show the charging and discharging process.
ALLPOWERS 16W Solar Panel Charger
Weight: 1.4 pounds
Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 0.5 inches
Design Features: iSolar technology; 2 amp maximum; PET anti-scratch technology; 19% conversion rate; compactness; durability; 16 watts
Best Use: longer trips in sunny-ish weather
Description: ALLPOWERS 16W Solar Panel Charger is 4.1 star panel that benefits from exclusive iSolar and fast charging technology, that can automatically detect which device you’ve plugged in. That will adjust consequently both the current and the voltage to achieve maximum power and to charge the device fast.
Keep in mind though that the maximum current you can get is 2 amps, so don’t try to plug in a device that requires more than that.
The solar conversion efficiency is lower than the two previously discussed chargers, but at 19% it’s still pretty high. That’s because most panels in the market usually go below 15% in their conversion rates.
The double USB port of 16 watts monocrystalline PET panel is perfect because you can take many gadgets along with you, and charge them at a reasonable high speed. So you can charge a smartphone and an iPad simultaneously, but since it’s a monocrystalline sort of panel it works better in sunny weather.
However, you can charge them on the go because this item can be attached to your backpack so you don’t have to miss a sunny day of hike waiting around in the camp for your gadgets to charge.
The materials used are pretty good, starting with the monocrystalline charger, the PET laminated panels and the outer PVC fabric. These make the ALLPowers charger both weather-resistant and durable.
BLKBOX Portable Solar Charger
Weight: 12 ounces
Dimensions: 9.5 x 4.8 x 1.2 inches
Design Features: Lightweight; foldable; compatible with most USB devices; 7 watts
Best Use: Short trips
Description: BLKBOX Portable Solar Charger 4.1 star item is great for short camping trips and hikes, since it only provides 7 watts of power. So if you don’t want to pay a higher price for a larger, more performant panel that will charge more devices, this is a perfect choice.
Nonetheless, it can charge a tablet if you’re taking that along, and it handles shade pretty well, but it could definitely benefit from some extra features like:
- Larger pocket.
- Blinking light for output power.
- Visual indicator.
Even if it’s a pretty basic panel, it serves its purpose amazingly because it delivers an extremely fast charge. For instance, if you have a tablet with a high-consuming battery that is completely empty, you can still charge that to almost 50% in the shade in less than 2 hours. To paint a clearer picture, the tablet needs just as long when it’s plugged in a wall socket.
Other advantages include:
- The possibility of hanging the panel on your tent or backpack.
- The possibility of placing an external battery in its pocket, to use at nights or indoors.
Related: Available with different wattages: 5W; 10W; 12 W
X-DRAGON 10000mAh Dual USB Solar Power Bank
Weight: 11.2 ounces
Dimensions: 8 x 5.5 x 1.3 inches
Design Features: 10000mAh high capacity; compact; waterproof; dustproof; shock-resistant; over-charge protection; dual USB port (2 amps and 1 amp)
Best Use: Longer trips; emergencies
Description: X-DRAGON 10000mAh Dual USB Solar Power Bank 3.7 star panel is perfect for longer trips because it can charge various gadgets several times:
- iPhone 6 for 3 times.
- iPhone 5s for 4 times.
- Galaxy s5 for 2 times.
- iPad mini for 1 time.
Being compatible with various USB items is surely a plus, and it can help if you have more gadgets or people in your group. And even if you run out of sun, the battery can recharge itself under direct sunlight so you can use it at night for instance.
That’s because the 10000mAh incorporated battery is very high capacity, almost 7 times bigger than a usual smartphone. However, it’s advised to only use this feature in emergencies because it takes 40 hours to be fully charged in sunlight. That’s why it’s best to find a wall socket that would have it ready in a few hours.
Other advantages relate to its:
- Compact design and very light weight, that render this panel easy to carry.
- Dust-proof, waterproof and shock-resistant features, that make this panel perfect for hiking, climbing and other outdoor activity.
- Bright LED light that can act as a flashlight or a SOS If you want to use this feature, press long to turn on the flashlight, then single click to turn on SOS light. Double click to turn it off.
- Overcharge protection that extends the battery life, making it safe and reliable.
- Dual USB port that lets you charge two devices simultaneously: one in the 2 amps port and one in the 1 amp port.
X-DRAGON High Efficency 20W Solar Panel Charger
Weight: 1.6 pounds
Dimensions: 13.2 x 7.8 x 1.5 inches
Design Features: iSolar Technology; 2.4A maximum current; 22%-25% conversion rate; 20 Watt; dual USB; portable
Best Use: Long-ish trips in mostly sunny weather
Description: X-DRAGON High Efficency 20W Solar Panel Charger solar panel gets 4.4 stars because it works pretty well if its sunny. It can still charge when there are clouds, but you’ll have to expect it working at a much slower rate.
The exclusive iSolar technology it employs can automatically detect what device you have plugged in, to adjust the amperage and voltage accordingly and provide an efficient charge. The 2.4 amperes worth of maximum current in direct sunlight is a pretty good value and it can explain why this panel charges devices so fast.
But its high efficiency can also be explained courtesy to the SUNPOWER solar cell that provides a 22%-25% conversion rate. That’s one of the highest conversion rates you can find on the market.
Plus, the dual USB ports enable you to charge two devices at once so that other people from your group can enjoy it. In fact, it has a performance of 20 watts, meaning that you can easily use it on more power hogging items.
Nonetheless, it’s not a bulky item for longer trips and if you don’t have room in your backpack, you can use its eyeholes to attach it on the outside. This sort of portability is exactly what you should be looking for, as you can use the charger in different circumstances.
Related: Available in different wattages: 14W and 40W
The Good and The Bad
That being said, you have to make sure you really need a solar charger and consider the pluses and the minuses carefully.
These panels are great for urgencies and emergencies. If you really need to make an important phone call or use your first aid app to find out how to treat an insect bite, you need to charge your device fast. Besides, solar power is free, so why not take advantage instead of using a wall socket?
And if you enjoy about 8 hours of full sunlight most days of your camping trip, grab that solar charger too, it will be a great help.
On the other hand, some solar panels are not so great when there’s no sun. We’re not saying your device will be totally useless now, but it will sure take longer to do its job and charge your gadgets. Which is when you definitely need more watts, so take that into account too.
Plus, if your gadgets require a lot of energy to work, you need a lot of amps and watts on that charger of yours. Otherwise, it won’t work or it will take ages to charge. Not to mention that some chargers simply can’t charge your stuff to the max and that’s that.
So if you’ve really set your heart on buying a solar panel be sure to double check all its features, its extras and think carefully about your needs, and the length of your trip.
Is there something we’ve missed? Let us know in the comment section below. And if you have a solar charger you absolutely love or one you’ve tried and hated, drop us a line – it will help our other visitors too.